Editor's note: Gregory Travis is still down with the flu and asked that this column from Sept. 4, 2005, be rerun.
How do you cause something to atrophy? You just ignore it. How do you get a lot of people to ignore something? By creating a big enough distraction. What's the result if you're successful? The atrophication and death of your subject.
What's the agenda? To kill off national and local government as an instrument of social relief and progress. Why? To replace it with a government of patronage for vested corporate interests.
That's the subtext of the national Republican administration, so successful in their overseas distraction that 200,000 people, most of them of the wrong political demographic, were left stranded and dying for a week in New Orleans.
And it's the subtext of the local Republican operation who, like their Washington comrades, have created a little distraction of their own.
Lines on a map
What's the distraction? It's a little thing called redistricting. In our country, as in most, political representation has geographic boundaries, called districts.
"The state now allows the Commissioners to electively redistrict in any odd-numbered years."
Indiana voters don't vote for Ohio's governor, Lawrence County voters don't say who is the next Monroe County Sheriff, etc. All the people sharing a common set of addresses, a common community, etc. get to vote for representatives who will represent the values and desires of that community.
But not too closely. For very good reasons, ours is not an absolute democracy. Minority interests must be protected against majority tyranny, and competition among contestants for political office must not only be encouraged, it must be codified.
And so it is in Indiana law. Every 10 years, coinciding with the decennial Census, our local political districts must be redrawn. That means the geographical boundaries of the Indiana House and Senate districts in which we live. It means the geographical boundaries defining who can be our County Council and County Commissioner representatives.
The reasons for the mandatory redistricting are simple enough. Populations change over time. People move around. What was a rural area becomes urban, sometimes what was populous becomes less so. Every 10 years the federal government counts how many people live where and, in response to that count, lines of representation get redrawn.
There are rules that govern how things can be redrawn, rules that were intended to reduce or eliminate the process of "gerrymandering," the drawing of districts to ensure the political success of a certain type and ideology of candidate. Think of a district that is drawn, meandering hither and fro, to include nothing but known Republican households. Could a Democrat win there? Not likely.
So the law says that districts must be "reasonably compact." That they must follow natural and anthropogenic boundaries (i.e. rivers, roads, etc.). In some cases they must all have roughly equal populations, etc.
An opportunity for subterfuge emerges
As I said, the law requires redistricting every decade. It also charges the County Commissioners with the redistricting task. In 2001, the Commissioners (two Democrats, one Republican) formed the necessary task force (itself comprised of two Democrats and one Republican) and went about their legal obligation. What emerged were a new set of County Council districts and a map of the Commissioner's districts, all reflecting the demographic reality of the 2000 Census.
"For very good reasons, ours is not an absolute democracy."
No one, Republican or Democrat, has ever complained about the maps. Not when they were drawn and not to this day.
Then Indianapolis made a funny little change in the law. Reacting to the eutrophic growth of counties like Hamilton, the state changed the law so that, in addition to the mandatory redistricting every 10 years, the state now allows the Commissioners to electively redistrict in any odd-numbered years (i.e. 2001, 2003, etc.).
And then a funny little thing happened in Monroe County. The Republicans, with no message for the public other than increased corporate subsidies, decreased public service, and support of rampant land conversion by an elite cadre of real-estate grifters, began losing elections. Badly.
If it ain't broke, we'll fix it
At the same time that Republicans were losing elections, the Democrats were going from strength to strength. It quickly became obvious that a distraction, modeled on the national plan, was needed. And so, Monroe County's Republicans invented the great redistricting diversion.
"At the same time that Republicans were losing elections, the Democrats were going from strength to strength."
Meeting in secret, they obtained the services of a young wide-eyed true believer, Patrick Dunnigan, who proceeded to draw up new district maps. Working feverishly through the spring of 2005, Dunnigan created two new County Council maps and one new County Commissioner map.
All designed to do one thing: to win through a districting straightjacket what had been lost on a field of hearts and minds. To put in the fix for Republicans, not because they appealed more to the electorate, but because the electorate will now have no other choice.
And to distract us. To distract us that the freshmen Democrats in County Government this year lowered taxes while increasing public, not corporate, services (thanks muchly to freshman Democrat Auditor Sandy Newmann who, for the first time ever, computerized the county's finances).
And to soften the field for more salvos like those lobbed today by Republican David Sabbagh, who scolded the Democratic Mayor of Bloomington for insufficient fealty to the area's corporations and land entrepreneurs and for too-much concern for city residents.
Wrapping a veneer of legitimacy on the storied process, the current Commissioners (2-1 Republican now) went public with the plan last month, saying they only wished to find a way to "better comply with state law." And to perform a heretofore unprecedented off-Census redistricting for no proffered reason other than to gain political advantage through a process that they can, but shouldn't, do.
They're desperate. Don't get distracted.
Gregory Travis can be reached at email@example.com.